Rights Groups Condemn Maryland County “Country Devil” Incident; Want Speedy Probe Into Matter
Three renowned local human rights groups operating in the country have vehemently condemned election violence in Maryland County that involved a traditional mask dancer otherwise known as “Country Devil”.
It can be recalled that electoral violence disrupted the tallying process of ballot papers in Maryland County after the close of voting on October 10, 2023.
The incident resulted into the injury of several persons in Old Sodoken at a precinct comprising two polling places. According to report, polling staffs and poll watchers from different political parties, as well as other NEC officials, fled the scene, abandoning ballot boxes on the heel of a series of controversies that led to the appearance of the “Country Devil”.
It was reported that the “Country Devil” took over the site of the ballot boxes in the presence of the town chief of Old Sodoken and other traditional leaders, who were being accused of seizing the ballot boxes.
In condemnation of the act while speaking at a news conference in Monrovia on Wednesday, October 25, 2023, the Executive Director of the Rural Human Rights Activists Program (RHRAP), Lorma Baysah, described the act as undemocratic and, as such, should have no space in the politics of Liberia.
Baysah called on the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the government’s arm responsible for traditional matters, to step in and investigate the matter, while the National Elections Commission (NEC) carries out its normal hearing process.
“This was wrong, and we condemn it. We want to use this time to call on the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) to intervene into the matter. Also, the Liberia National Police (LNP), in line with the justice system, must arrest all those involved in this. As I said, this should have no place in our democracy,” added Baysah in response to a question posed to him.
At the same time, two rights groups in a joint statement issued Tuesday also condemned the act and, like RHRAP, also want the matter to be given attention, stating that it has the propensity to undermine the country’s peace and security.
The Movement for the Defense of Women and Girls Rights in Liberia (MDWGRL) and Equal Society For All (ESA) underscored that in the sustenance of peace, Liberians must strive to adhere to all tenets of democracy, including the embracement of peaceful, free, transparent and, most importantly, inclusive elections in Liberia.
“Bringing the ‘Country Devil’ out during election is undemocratic. The tradition of Maryland does not allow women and men (who are not part of the traditional practices) to be outside when the ‘Country Devil’ comes outside. We are all aware that all women and those boys and men who are not part of the traditional practices will have to run and not be seen by the devil. Our brothers and sisters on many occasions get hurt running away. We should never encourage this in our democracy,” said the statement by (ESA) and MDWGRL.
“We want to make this clear, our explanation of what happens when the country devil is brought outside is in a way disrespectful to our noble tradition and people. No, we cannot disrespect the traditional leaders. We should not even be talking about this had the ‘Country Devil’ not been brought into the process. As advocacy groups, we believe it’s appropriate to speak on these issues that exclude women from a process as important as election. Marylanders are a peaceful people. The People of Pleebo are good and peaceful. This should in no way divide the people.
“Let us keep it free, fair, transparent and inclusive. And let’s keep our traditional practices out of the process so women can get back on the lines to vote and excise their democratic right,” added the groups’ statement.